Is the iPod, at long last, a high-end audio component?

The Audiophiliac's take on the Wadia 170i Transport iPod "dock."

A Nano docked into the Wadia 170i Transport. Steve Guttenberg

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm starting to think the iPod is a true high-end audio component. What's changed? I heard it in my high-end system, docked into Wadia's 170i Transport ($379). I can now testify to the iPod's bona fides.

Thing is, an iPod, even one loaded with uncompressed AIFF or WAV files, isn't all by itself a high-end component, but teamed with Wadia's 170i Transport, aka, dock, an iPod is elevated to high-end status. The transformation takes place when the Wadia transmits the iPod's zeros and ones to an outboard digital-to-analog (D/A) converter in your A/V receiver, or even better, a standalone high-end D/A. Wadia's claims that the 170i is the first and only "dock" to extract a digital output from an unmodified iPod.

The 170i's digital out sends a 16 bit/44.1 kHz PCM digital signal to a D/A. The 170i does that for MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV files, but just be aware that it converts all but AIFF and WAV to 16/44.1. It can also pass 16/48 PCM, but in most cases 16/44.1 is what you'll get.

According to Wadia's national sales manager, Martin Cooper, iPods store MP3, Apple Lossless, and AAC files in Apple's own digital language, and when an iPod is nestled into a 170i it converts those files to 16/44.1 PCM. That way, the signals can be processed by the D/A in your A/V receiver or high-end D/A. MP3, Apple Lossless, and AAC files will sound "good," just not quite the same as the original CD. In other words, only AIFF and WAV files can be heard with bit-for-bit accuracy over the 170i.

The digital and analog audio outputs, plus component and s-video outputs. Steve Guttenberg

Full 170i/iPod compatibility is limited to the latest generations of iPods; check Wadia's site for more detailed info on that score.

For these listening tests I hooked up the 170i Transport to my high-end system: Sunfire Theater Grand III surround processor, Parasound JC-1 power amplifiers, and Magnepan 3.6/R speakers.

The iPod Nano 4GB/170i's sound was highly resolved, with great depth and high frequency air. As a "control" I hooked up the Nano via its 40-pin connector to the system. I can't say the difference between the Wadia docked iPod and solo iPod was huge, but significant enough to sway audiophiles. The Wadia docked iPod was cleaner and more transparent.

Awful sounding CDs, like Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, still sound awful--whether it's a CD, AIFF, WAV, or 128 MP3. The old "garbage in, garbage out" truism hasn't changed.

The Wadia 170i Transport will delight audiophiles--you know, people who really care about sound quality. And yes, it'll pass video over its S-Video and component connections.

Have you heard the 170i for yourself? Are you planning on buying one?

 

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